On June 23 2019, the Facebook page “Just Disney” shared a meme which claimed that the late Don Rickles’ Mr. Potato Head character appeared in the feature film Toy Story 4 — despite his death in April 2017:
Beneath a still from the animated films, the text read:
Don Rickles intended to reprise his role as Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 4, but died in April 2017. Rickles’ family then contacted Pixar and asked if there was a way to include him in the film. By reviewing 25 years of material, including unused lines from the first three films, games and other related media for the franchise, and they were able to assemble enough to use within the film.
No source for the claim was included. However, the release of Toy Story 4 was accompanied by a number of articles about the making of the film. The meme says that Rickles’ family initiated the actor’s inclusion in the film, but a June 2019 Chicago Tribune article explained it slightly differently:
[Rickles] continued to headline lounges and concert halls well into his 80s, and before his death, Rickles agreed to join the fourth iteration of the 24-year-old franchise.
The “Toy Story” team asked Rickles’ family if they wanted him to be included posthumously.
It was a no-brainer, daughter Mindy Rickles said at the world premiere in Hollywood this month.
“He always said, ‘Keep my name alive. Let them know who I am.’ So he would be thrilled by all of this, definitely,” she said on the red carpet.
“Toy Story 4” director Josh Cooley was overjoyed, “I can only see Mr. Potato Head as Don Rickles doing that voice. I can’t imagine anyone else.”
It was a painstaking process to include archival sound of Rickles’ voice.
The article continues:
Bit by bit, an editorial team mined more than two decades’ worth of Rickles’ voice sessions and outtakes recorded for movies, shorts, theme parks, toys and other projects.
They “logged every word, every cough, every hum, just so we’d know what we had,” Cooley recalled.
In a separate interview, Cooley said:
Of course we loved Don obviously, and after he passed, his family contacted us and asked if there was any way that we could create a performance using the recordings that we had … Now, he signed to be in Toy Story 4. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to record him for the film. But we went through, jeez, 25 years of everything we didn’t use for Toy Story 1, 2, 3, the theme parks, the ice capades, the video games — everything that he’s recorded for Mr. Potato Head. And we were able to do that. And so I’m very honored that they asked us to do that, and I’m very honored that he’s in the film. Nobody can replace him.
In March 2019, Cooley tweeted:
“Some people say funny things, I say things funny.” -Don Rickles
All of his pieces may be replaceable, but his voice is not. Honored he signed on for TS4, honored he’s in TS4. pic.twitter.com/Q7cTRSQNwh
— Josh Cooley (@CooleyUrFaceOff) March 28, 2019
The Hollywood Reporter described other projects during which a main character’s actor died — and how studios got around it:
[The same] approach was taken following the accidental death of Paul Walker while Furious 7 was in production. The film was completed with digital versions of Walker, and the late actor’s vocal performance in those scenes was carefully crafted by the sound editors, using existing recorded dialogue.
Similarly, in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a 1977 version of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia says the film’s final line, “Hope.” In that instance, the Skywalker Sound team found reel-to-reel tapes in its archives, featuring original takes of Fisher voicing the line, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.” They selected one take, and that’s what was used to conclude Rogue One.
Although the meme said Rickles’ family initiated the process of his inclusion in Toy Story 4 and other accounts credit the director and Pixar, the basic facts provided are accurate. Content from various sources was mined to ensure Rickles’ Mr. Potato Head character was a part of Toy Story 4.